U.S. study questions budget for warplanes Weldon of Pa. plans discussion today of 'major problems'

February 13, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

The Congressional Budget Office will release a report today that finds "major problems" with the Pentagon's plan to modernize its fleet of fighter planes, sources said.

The tactical aviation report was requested by Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican and key member of the House National Security Committee who has been a critic of costly plans to buy new fighter planes.

Weldon has scheduled a 9: 30 a.m. news conference to discuss the report.

The study will show that the effort to modernize the national arsenal by buying F/A-18E/F, F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter planes is "not going to be affordable in its current form," said one source familiar with the report.

"And the sun is going to come up tomorrow," said another source, pointing out that the new fighter jet programs have been headed for a collision with budgetary realities for some time.

A congressional study last year found that the Pentagon would need $16 billion a year to pay for the new aircraft now on the books. Currently, the Pentagon has about $2 billion to $3 billion a year for such programs.

The fate of the programs is important to a number of Maryland businesses. Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda is the prime contractor for the roughly $50 billion F-22 program, aimed at replacing the F-15 as the country's air superiority fighter.

Lockheed Martin also is competing with Boeing Co. of Seattle to build the Joint Strike Fighter, which could replace the F-16 as the all-purpose warplane of the 21st century. With a potential value of $200 billion or more, the Joint Strike Fighter would be the biggest military contract ever awarded.

Northrop Grumman Corp., which has a radar plant in Linthicum, performs radar and electronics work related to all three of the tactical aircraft programs.

Weldon has been one of the most consistent voices in Congress calling for some kind of check on the drive to build those three planes.

In a previous interview, Weldon denounced the Department of Defense for its "pipe dream of us being able to fund tactical aviation in a way that's just not realistic. We just don't have the money."

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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